Jazz  •  Free Jazz

Third Stream

Third Stream (a term invented by composer Gunther Schuller in 1957) essentially means a mixture of jazz and classical music. Most attempts at fusing the two very different idioms have been (at best) mixed successes with string sections weighing down jazz soloists. In the 1920s, Paul Whiteman alternated between symphonic string sections and classic jazz solos. Strings were used in some swing bands in the 1940s (most inventively by Artie Shaw and Stan Kenton's dissonant works of 1950-51) but in all cases the added musicians were merely reading their parts and backing the improvisers. Starting with Charlie Parker in 1949, jazz players recorded now and then (while joined by strings), but it was not until the mid-to-late '50s that more serious experiments began to take place. Schuller, John Lewis, J.J. Johnson, and Bill Russo were some of the more significant composers attempting to bridge the gap between jazz and classical music. Most musical forecasters in the mid-'50s would have predicted that jazz's next phase would involve a fusion of sorts with classical music, but the rise of the avant garde (which has a spontaneity and an extrovertism that most pseudo-classical works lack) largely ended the third stream movement before it came close to catching on beyond academic circles. Since its heyday in the late '50s, there have been occasional third stream projects ranging from significant successes (such as Eddie Daniels' Breakthrough CD for GRP) to some that sound closer to pompous Muzak. Although the movement never really became a major force, it still has potential.